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Former Sous Chef Sizzling at Pricey Restaurant

LOS ANGELES (CN) — A former sous chef sued Urasawa, one of California's priciest restaurants, claiming it refused to pay him overtime or allow meal and rest breaks — and that the owner threatened to kill him.

The Michelin two-star restaurant — where a dinner tab for two, including sake, can exceed $1,000 — was hit with a headline-making employee lawsuit in 2013, after the California Department of Industrial Relations forced it to pay $67,785 in back wages and penalties.

Tom Nonaka's Sept. 26 lawsuit in Superior Court may be connected to the earlier one. Nonaka claims restaurant owner Hiroyuki Urasawa required him to help the restaurant resolve a wage-and-hour suit that was filed in spring 2013.

"Mr. Urasawa coerced plaintiff to pay $14,623.50 to finance the litigation and/or settlement by threatening to kill plaintiff if he did not make said payments," the new lawsuit states. "As a direct result of Mr. Urasawa's threats, plaintiff was forced to pay $14,623.50."

Adam Moloudi, who represented the Urasawa restaurant in the 2013 labor board action, said he could not comment on the new case.

Nonaka's lawsuit does not explain why he had to be involved in negotiations over the 2013 case or why he should contribute to its resolution. Nonaka's attorney, Assaf Lichtash of Pershing Square Law Firm, said in an interview that he could not disclose those details.

Nonaka "tried to assist Mr. Urasawa with this, and it turned out the way it turned out in the complaint," Lichtash said.

He acknowledged that "it's an unusual case, with a whole other cause of action for this issue."

The cause of action asserts that by "threatening to harm plaintiff," Urasawa "violated Labor Code section 6400 by failing to provide a safe workplace free of violence or threats of violence."

Otherwise, the 9-page complaint appears to be a routine wage-and-hour action. It says Nonaka resigned in October after being repeatedly stiffed for overtime for working more than 8 hours a day and 40 hours in a week, as California law requires.

He also claims Urasawa denied him required meal and rest breaks, did not give him accurate pay statements and delayed sending him his final check after he quit.

He seeks unpaid wages, general damages and punitive damages for Labor Code violations and for emotional distress and violation of a state civil rights law.

Sometimes described as the second-most expensive restaurant in the country, Urasawa is an omakase-style restaurant that offers a $395 tasting menu with a whopping 30 items, according to reviews.

In July 2013, The New York Times reported on a lawsuit from an ex-Urasawa employee who claimed he was fired for asking to go home one night when he was sick.

The restaurant made headlines in spring 2013 when worker advocates complained to the state labor board about pay violations and poor conditions. One employee said he was forced to urinate in a mop sink because staff members were not allowed to use the restroom when diners were present.

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